TopSpeed / Tudor Rus / January 14, 2020
There are a lot of businesses and institutions that use cars to support their activities. You’ve got your police forces, the army, your airport support vehicles, you get the point.
Speaking of airports, the U.S. Air Forces use Chevrolet Camaro SS chase cars that help land U-2 spy planes. That’s right, the mighty U-2 needs to be guided for a successful landing from a fast car because its highly-specialized build is more suited to high-altitude flying than landing easily.
As Popular Mechanics points out in an article from 2012, the Lockheed U-2 ‘Dragon Lady’ relies on long and thin wings attached to a dragonfly-like body to generate enough lift and as little drag as possible required to fly at altitudes of over 70,000 feet.
This comes at a cost, though: low-speed handling. Low-speed handling is so bad that landing is a tedious and potentially dangerous task. Vector in the landing gear that’s basically crammed in the central area of the airplane and the fact that the pilot’s visibility is heavily restricted by the helmet and the plane’s design itself, and you’ve got your hands full whenever you need to land this thing. This, however, is where the chase cars come in.
In SS spec, the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro could be fitted with one of two available 6.2-liter V-8 engines. Manual cars got the LS3, good for 426 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque mated to the six-speed Tremec, with the 400-horsepower, 410-pound-feet L99 being bolted exclusively to a six-speed Hydra-Matic automatic gearbox. The latter helps the Camaro SS reach 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds with a quarter-mile time of 13.1 seconds at 109 miles per hour.
Why is this important? Well, the Mobil must be able to accelerate to 100 miles per hour in a turn to come into position behind the airplane as it approaches the runway. The car is actually driven by a qualified U-2 pilot who starts making radio contact with the U-2 as it comes ten feet off the runway, informing the pilot on a handful of crucial parameters:
That said, we can only imagine how busy the driver and the U-2 pilot can get on a windy day. It’s also worth mentioning that the Camaro SS isn’t the only car that guided the U-2 during its long career. Over the years, the U.S. Air Force also used cars from Pontiac, Subaru, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz.